Author: Shana Abé
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source: Random House via Edelweiss
Description from Goodreads:
For fans of Lauren Kate and Libba Bray, The Sweetest Dark is filled with thrilling romance, exciting adventure, and ancient magic. Shana Abé brilliantly captures the drama of post-Victorian England, while unfolding a passionate love story that defies time.
“With every fiber of my being, I yearned to be normal. To glide through my days at Iverson without incident. But I’d have to face the fact that my life was about to unfold in a very, very different way than I’d ever envisioned. Normal would become forever out of reach.”
Lora Jones has always known that she’s different. On the outside, she appears to be an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl. Yet Lora’s been keeping a heartful of secrets: She hears songs that no one else can hear, dreams vividly of smoke and flight, and lives with a mysterious voice inside her that insists she’s far more than what she seems.
England, 1915. Raised in an orphanage in a rough corner of London, Lora quickly learns to hide her unique abilities and avoid attention. Then, much to her surprise, she is selected as the new charity student at Iverson, an elite boarding school on England’s southern coast. Iverson’s eerie, gothic castle is like nothing Lora has ever seen. And the two boys she meets there will open her eyes and forever change her destiny.
Jesse is the school’s groundskeeper—a beautiful boy who recognizes Lora for who and what she truly is. Armand is a darkly handsome and arrogant aristocrat who harbors a few closely guarded secrets of his own. Both hold the answers to her past. One is the key to her future. And both will aim to win her heart. As danger descends upon Iverson, Lora must harness the powers she’s only just begun to understand, or else lose everything she dearly loves.
Filled with lush atmosphere, thrilling romance, and ancient magic, The Sweetest Dark brilliantly captures a rich historical era while unfolding an enchanting love story that defies time.
First Sentence: "Are your eyes truly open?"
This book sounded so completely awesome, right up my alley. Historical fiction and paranormal? Sign me up. Well, I did sign me up and I read it and here we are with me trying to put a handle on just how I feel about The Sweetest Dark. It definitely falls into the category of really weird books. Parts I really enjoyed, and parts I loathed, while others I just didn't care about. Ultimately, I feel like Abé tried to do to many things, and the book came out a bit of an awkward mishmash.
I loved the beginning, and, had the book continued in that vein, I would have been so happy. The prologue is seriously creepy and establishes a gothic tone. Abé writes gothic so well! Whenever she went into a section like that, such as the ones describing the castle and the school, I just ate it up, though I do want to prevent her from ever again using the word 'velveteen' to describe nature. Unfortunately these moments were all too brief once the paranormal plot line got going.
Eleanore, or Lora, our heroine has had a rough life. Raised in an orphanage, she garnered the wrong kind of attention by mentioning the songs and voices she can hear in her head. This gets her institutionalized for a time, with shock therapy and everything. Voices finally quieted, she is released and sent to a prestigious school in the north, away from the bombs falling in London as World War I has just kicked off.
As already intimated, I liked the bits at the school quite a bit, but that really just wasn't the focus at all, sadly. She doesn't attend a class until over a hundred pages into it, and only goes to 4 or so of them as far as the reader knows. Another thing we don't learn until a fair way through the book: what Lora's deal is, what kind of paranormal creature she is. Spoiler: she's not crazy, or, if she is, it's a collective delusion.
The big reveal of the truth of Lora's dreams and oddness is likely supposed to shock and awe. My response: an eyeroll. The whole thing, while admittedly fairly original, is completely ridiculous. I didn't see it coming, because I don't like this mythology she's gone with. When it comes to this bit, you'll probably either love it or you won't. Oh, also, her secret results in her spending a lot of time naked with boys, which resulted in more eyerolling, although props for her not being insanely embarrassed or flirty as a result; she covers up when she can but doesn't freak out, which is admirable.
The love triangle, though, I loathed wholeheartedly. For one thing, it's one of those super pathetic love triangles where the heroine will obviously never choose the second guy, but, thanks to paranormalness, he can't help but love her. Actually, both of the guys will always love her because of her paranormal nature, which I don't find especially romantic; they don't love her, so much as what she is.
Bachelor #1 is Jesse, the purportedly mute carriage driver for the school. She hears symphonies when they touch and they promptly fall in instalove. In the carriage on the way to the school, she's wrapped up in blankets. After she goes into the school, he SMELLS THEM. *shudders* He also comes into her room while she's sleeping on the first night to leave her an orange in proper YA stalker style, though, to be fair, she does tell him not to come in anymore. STILL. I found Jesse so incredibly bland and just did not care about him one whit.
The doomed party of the love triangle, Armande, has wealth on his side. The son of the local Duke, his interest opens doors for Eleanore, making it possible for her to attend more events than classes. Armande was more interesting than Jesse, not that that's difficult. What I did enjoy about his character is how snarky Eleanore is with him. All of her best moments are when she tells him off. However, I couldn't like him for two reasons. First, before she arrived he had a flirtation going with Chloe, a snotty girl that he later admits he cannot stand. Why spend time with her if you hate her? Playboy much? Second, and I admit this is a completely superficial reason, he likes to be called Mandy. Sorry, but the only man who can pull off that name is this one:
At the end, I had some hopes that Abé would take the plot somewhere original and recover the romance bits a smidge. She actually did sort of, but ruined it all with a completely lame epilogue. Rarely are epilogues used correctly. *headdesk*
In the end, I didn't like this much, but it did show promise in some areas. I just wish this had been a little more Wildthorn, a little less your average paranormal romance.
Favorite Quote: Not my favorite, but my favorite non-descriptive quote. Those were really long and probably not interesting to a lot of people.
"'Is that why you came?'
'No, I came because I simply can't get enough of people looking down their noses at me. The girls at school are getting frightfully lax about it.'
'Are they? How remiss of them. We're taught from the cradle how to look down our noses, you know, we rich sons of birches. Perhaps Westcliffe's curriculum is a tad too liberal these days.'"